How I Shed my Collectivist Culture Mentality by Traveling Solo

Solo travel not only pushes you out of your comfort zone, it also pushes you out of the zone of others’ expectations. – Suzy Strutner

A collectivist culture is one that is based on valuing the needs of the community over the needs of the individual. Kinship and community are the cornerstones of a collectivist society. And what could possibly be wrong with valuing family and community relationships? Nothing, unless there’s no room for individual growth and, thus, no balance between I and we. And, of course, let’s not forget, people within collectivist cultures live and die by the phrase: But what will people say?

Indo-Guyanese culture is highly collectivist.

We have generations living in the same home. Aunties and uncles who behave like parents, and cousins who are basically siblings. Our families can be big and heavily involved in each other’s lives. For some people, this is exactly how they want things to be. For others, like myself, it’s not that we don’t love our family and community but we would also like to love ourself, as our own entity.

[Read Related: 4 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Travel Wardrobe]

Growing up, I had an ever-present inner turmoil. There was a constant push-pull between what I know my parents wanted and what I know I wanted, and what my parents wanted usually won out because I knew giving them what they want would make them happy. I also often thought that what they wanted was probably better for me than what I wanted because of their role in my life.

But over time, I learned that parents want what they perceive to be best for their children. Giving way to what my parents wanted didn’t always work out for me. When I was 18 years old I realized I was living someone else’s life but it was the life I always said I would live and it was the life that would help me build a better life for my family, so I gave way again. This time around though, it took a toll on my mental and physical health. It wasn’t until a few years later, a lot of internal battles, and a few brave steps that I allowed myself to believe that I’m allowed to be a bit individualistic. I’m allowed to be happy doing what makes me happy, even if that doesn’t make anyone else happy.

Traveling makes me happy. I want to see the world, learn about different cultures and experience adventures you can’t find in New York. Like many of us, I lead a very busy life and so do the people I generally travel with. A few months ago I decided that life is too short to wait for travel buddies. Are they loads of fun? Yes. Do I NEED them to have fun? No. So I booked a trip to Rome and told no one until a few weeks before I was about to leave.

At this point in my life, the phrase but what will people say doesn’t pop up often. People have said quite a lot about my sisters and me and we’ve weathered the storm. My parents have learned and grown a lot over the years as well. That said, my father was worried about my safety and my mother was disappointed I didn’t have anyone to travel with; more specifically she was disappointed I didn’t have a MALE someone to travel with.

[Read Related: 4 Life Lessons I Learned While Traveling to Belize Solo]

Safety concerns are always valid and, of course, I tried to put my father at ease by reminding him that his survival instincts and constant tips on how not to get robbed or kidnapped have been embedded into my mind.

Disappointment over a lack of a male travel buddy, however, is a different hurdle. I love my mother, I know she wants me to lead a happy life, but her definition of a happy life is a bit different from mine. I don’t disagree with her definition. I just think it might not be in the cards for me. I often point out, I was told: “No boys, take your education,” for 90 percent of my life. Like a good daughter, I did as I was told. Then one day she switched it up on me and asked, “but when are you getting married.” That’s not how it works. I spent my whole life with my nose in a book, doing everything for myself. I slowly learned to value my happiness and cultivated my independence within this collectivist structure and all of a sudden I should give that up? All of a sudden I should shed my independence and simply be someone’s wife?


I went on my trip, ALONE. It was an incredibly liberating experience. I essentially dropped myself into a foreign country and told myself to survive and I feel like I didn’t just survive, I THRIVED. I woke up when I wanted to. I slept when I wanted to. Every day was a new and unplanned adventure. I ate wherever and whatever I wanted. I visited every location I wanted and even stumbled across a few unexpected ones. I caught up on reading and writing. I stopped, at random moments, in different piazzas and churches, to simply take in everything around me and reflect on the history of where I sat and sometimes even on my own history.

[Read Related: 10 Things I Look Forward to When my Husband Travels]

By the time I arrived home, I felt a mix of excitement and inner peace; like I had finally slain a dragon I’d been chasing for years and now I can live out my days knowing I had accomplished, at least one great thing, and at the same time I was completely ready to slay more dragons.

Growing up in a collectivist culture and trying to strike a balance is tough. We all know this; for a lot of us, it’s a part of our daily struggles. If you’re reading this and haven’t found a way to strike a balance yet and haven’t slain your dragon, I don’t want you to think you have to travel to Rome to do so. (I acknowledge that traveling is a privilege that I now have.)

I think you have to look at your own obstacles and find your own creative ways to overcome them. Our experiences are similar, but not the same, and no one will truly be able to help you overcome your hurdles as you can. This is certainly not a collectivist way of thinking, but as I’ve said, you’re allowed to be a bit individualistic, to be happy, doing what makes you happy.

By Vijaya Singh

Vijaya was born in Guyana but moved to Long Island as a child and has yet to visit Guyana since. … Read more ›